The last year of my life has been anything but a cakewalk. Illnesses and other life-changing events in the families of many of my best friends, my own mother had a stroke and we nearly lost her, and I left the life I’d grown so accustomed to living/working/playing in NYC. They say that big changes in your life are a catalyst for growth. But instead, I found myself profoundly stuck, for a long while.
Going through these hard things at home made my self-confidence slowly vanish. I didn’t have my normal routine anymore, and not having anything to feel confident about as I formally did (like my successes at work, having a nice apartment to come home to, etc.) affected me in a way I couldn’t have anticipated beforehand. I didn’t feel like I had anything to be proud of, and that can slowly chip away at your self-worth. Eventually, I didn’t even feel like I had a right to an opinion. I couldn’t hold my own in conversations because I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear what I had to say any longer.
In retrospect, it’s a really sad internal place to be in. I was so hard on myself and thought I was so worthless, even if I’d gotten pretty good at hiding it. There wasn’t any room for anyone else to tell me otherwise. Even if they had, it would have fallen on deaf ears. I’ve found that people can try to get you to feel one way or another, but unless you truly feel that way yourself, it will be in vain.
When I left my job months ago, it was always with an intention of taking time off to travel. The aforementioned personal hardships of my friends and family postponed my travel plans, but I finally got my s**t together enough to take the money I’d intended for my career-break travel and put it to good use in Singapore and Thailand, where I traveled solo for a month.
When you’re traveling alone, you find yourself in extremely difficult situations without anyone else there to help you or to talk out a potential solution. You have yourself alone as a resource. This builds your character because once you realize this is the case, and you get through it, your confidence starts to return.
You realize that if you can get through having your wallet stolen in northern Thailand and still figure out how to get yourself halfway around the world via 5 different layovers the very next day, without anyone else’s assistance, you must not be such a useless person. Actually, quite the opposite. If you can figure out how to get back to your hotel without a map and a completely dead phone by yourself, you must be pretty resourceful. The examples go on.
There’s a quote I stole from somewhere on the internet:
I realized my travels [especially my solo travels] always have an aspect about them of “finding myself”. But what I’ve instead realized is that I don’t need to go halfway around the world to find myself. I went halfway around the world to remember who I’ve always been – she just went missing for a while.
I recognized again the capable woman that lives under my skin and that has a lot to be proud of. And it’s not the nice apartment, or the successes at work that I realized I should be proud of, either. Because those are the types of cursory accomplishments that will always be fleeting. There will be wins in every aspect of your life, but there will also be losses. I’ve learned that the most balanced and confident people embrace both, and don’t just live for the successes and shy away from their failures. Both are a part of life, and the sooner you realize that the more stable and grounded a person you will be.
Those are also not the things I should be proud of when I’m much older and looking back on my life, either. I won’t think to myself, “Wow I really had a nice apartment”. Instead, I’ll be proud of myself for navigating around the extremely confusing streets of Tokyo without a map. I’ll be proud of myself for not losing my mind sitting in the back of a taxi in Bangkok while the driver yelled at me in Thai because I didn’t want to pay the extremely inflated price that he’d asked for. I’ll be proud of myself for not losing my sanity while waiting in any sort of line to fly Air China (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve also done it).
It’s the small victories that start to add up. You start to believe and trust in yourself again. In your decision-making abilities, in your own intuition. Traveling alone helps you understand how to be comfortable with yourself, and not be defined by other people around you. People need to learn to be comfortable with themselves now more than ever, in a world of constant comparison and FOMO.
Now that I’m back home from my travels, I’m faced with the same melodramas that I was before I left. But I’m noticing that my reactions aren’t the same. I’m trying to embrace the challenges that were still here waiting for me at home as I now go forward into the struggle of trying to completely change my career after working hard for many years to get to the position I walked away from. I second guess myself constantly and whether or not I made the right choice. But at least now I can trust myself enough to know that whatever I’m faced with, whatever the future holds, I can handle it. That makes the future significantly less scary, with the inevitable future successes AND failures that await me.
Because now I know I can hold my own. I have plenty to be proud of. I will be ok no matter what happens. Travel helped me to remember that.